Communication is crucial to choosing the right camp experience. Whether families have already chosen a camp for the summer or are still working on their decision, it’s important to work together with camp directors to create a partnership—early and ongoing conversations establish open lines of communication and trust. The American Camp Association® (ACA) recommends that famiies consider the following when speaking with camp directors:
What is the camp’s philosophy and program emphasis?
· Each camp has its own method of constructing programs based on its philosophy.
· Does it complement your own parenting philosophy?
· Knowing your child’s personality and style of learning is valuable in selecting the right camp.
What is the camp director’s background?
· ACA minimum standards recommend directors possess a bachelor’s degree, have completed in-service training within the past three years, and have at least 16 weeks of camp administrative experience before assuming the responsibilities of director.
What training do counselors receive? How old are the counselors? What is the percentage of returning staff? What are the desired qualities in camp staff?
· At a minimum, camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communication, behavior management techniques, child abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behavior, and specific procedures for supervision.
· ACA standards recommend that 80 percent or more of the counselor/program staff be at least 18 years old. Staff must be at least 16, and at least two years older than the campers with whom they work.
· Look for qualities such as trustworthiness and dependability. Other great traits include adaptability, empathy, a strong self-image, and outgoing personality.
· Most camps have a return rate of 40 to 60 percent. If it is lower, find out why.
What is the counselor-to-camper ratio?
· ACA standards require different ratios for varying ages and special needs.
· Generally, the ratios at resident camps range from one staff for every six campers ages 7 and 8; one staff for every eight campers ages 9 to 14; and one staff for every 10 campers ages 15 to 18.
· At day camps the ratios range from one staff for every eight campers ages 6 to 8; one staff for every 10 campers ages 9 to 14; and one staff for every 12 campers ages 15 to 18.
How are behavioral and disciplinary problems handled?
· Positive reinforcement, assertive role-modeling and a sense of fair play are generally regarded as key components of camp counseling and leadership.
· Rules are necessary in any organization, and the disciplinary approach taken should be reasonable and well communicated.
· If penalties are involved for violations, they should be applied quickly, fairly, calmly, and without undue criticism to campers.
How does the camp handle special needs?
· If your child has special requirements, ask the camp director about needed provisions and facilities.
· Is there a nurse on staff?
· A designated place to store insulin or allergy medicine?
· Are special foods available for campers with restricted diets?
How does the camp handle homesickness and other adjustment issues?
· Be sure you are comfortable with the camp’s guidelines on parent/child contact.
Ask for references.
· Directors should be happy to provide references.
Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association? Why? Why not?
· ACA-accredited camps meet up to 300 standards regarding essential health, safety, and program quality issues important to a camp’s overall operation.
· This does not guarantee a risk-free environment, but it’s some of the best evidence parents have of a camp’s commitment to a safe and nurturing environment for their children.
For more tips and information, families can visit www.CampParents.org, ACA’s family resource site. Families can search ACA’s Find A Camp database, which allows families to look for a camp based on region, activity, cultural focus, budget, session length, and much more! In addition, families can follow ACA on Facebook and Twitter for helpful hints and camp information.
The American Camp Association® (ACA) works to preserve, promote, and enhance the camp experience for children and adults. ACA-Accredited® camp programs ensure that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. There are over 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that meet up to 300 health and safety standards. For more information, visit www.CampParents.org.